Bill Lester hasn't competed in a NASCAR race since 2007 but has returned to the sport for the Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He revealed his thoughts on NASCAR banning the Confederate flag last year. He commended the sport for their decision
“I was floored. I was blown away. I was so moved that I sent an email to [NASCAR president] Steve Phelps and said, ‘Thank you. I really appreciate what you did. That was a huge statement.’ Because when I was racing on a more consistent basis in the mid-2000s, my ears were not ready to hear it. There was no platform that I had to be able to say the things that Bubba did and let them gain traction. They sunk in this time.”
Some NASCAR fans might see Lester's comments as controversial, but they may not know of the racism he endured during his career. Between running through the infield to stop potential attackers and racial slurs being used against him constantly, Lester can be forgiven for thinking the sport never embraced him.
“For young, Black youth or youth of color, they have to see more athletes that look like them in this sport, right?” Lester said. “They need to see more Bubba Wallaces or Bubba Wallace having more success. It’s going to come. I believe, honestly, that it’s going to come with that program. But you know, folks are expecting way too much too soon. It’s not going to happen overnight."
NASCAR undergoing cultural change?
Unfortunately for NASCAR, racism in the sport has been one of their biggest problems. The sport has done a better job of having diversity in their fields, but the work is far from over. Some fans are still likely to hold strong to their beliefs, but the sport must address internal forms of racism at the very least. The sport requires a generational change to move towards true equality.
NASCAR is slowly undergoing a cultural change, but only time will tell if their efforts are bearing fruit. The sport deserves credit for its pursuit of diversity, and hopefully, Lester's appearance in Atlanta will open the door for other opportunities.